Alfred Place Baptist Church

Psalm 4: The God Whos Answers Prayer

Psalm 4  For the director of music. With stringed instruments. A psalm of David.

“Answer me when I call to you, O my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; be merciful to me and hear my prayer. How long, O men, will you turn my glory into shame? How long will you love delusions and seek false gods? Selah. Know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself; the LORD will hear when I call to him. In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent. Selah. Offer right sacrifices and trust in the LORD. Many are asking, ‘Who can show us any good?’ Let the light of your face shine upon us, O LORD. You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound. I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.”

King David was clearly in distress when he said these words; he was crying to God, “Give me some relief.” We can empathize with him can’t we? Every single Christian without exception will know such times. Why was the king in distress? It was certainly not that he had a mistaken view of God, because look at the way he addresses him, “O my righteous God.” That is as unique form of address. This is the only place in the entire Bible where God is spoken to in this way, “O God of my righteousness.” That would mean to David that God was the imputer of David’s righteousness; he was the author and imparter of David’s righteousness; he was the witness to David’s righteousness; he was the maintainer of David’s righteousness; he was the one who evaluated David’s righteousness; he was the rewarder of David’s righteousness. “My righteousness is God,” says David, and every single Christian bows his head in wonder at that phrase. Our righteousness is in heaven, because in the gospel a righteousness has been revealed to us and it is the righteousness of the Son of God imputed to all who believe in the Lord Jesus. So David has good strong biblical theology, and his distress was not due to any theological deficiencies.

  1. DAVID’S GROUNDS FOR DISTRESS.

We can see from the psalm that there were two reasons for his distress.

i] Unbelieving men and women were turning to shame the glory of David’s status and beliefs. “How long, O men, will you turn my glory into shame?” (v.2). Think of total contrasts, light and darkness, victory and defeat, glory and shame – men were turning David’s glory into its reverse, to shame. Let me explain to you what was David’s glory and what is the glory of everyone who knows and serves God.  David had been the runt of the litter of Jesse’s family, the youngest of the boys, someone who stayed up on the hills alone with his father’s sheep for long periods. His father didn’t consider him worthy to meet Samuel when the prophet came to set apart one of Jesse’s children to be the future king. Out of the blue God had intervened in David’s life and raised him up, given him victory over Goliath, the hand of the king’s daughter in marriage, and finally made him king. Then God had blessed him with spiritual gifts; David had written Psalm 23. Elevation, inspiration, protection and prosperity had all come to David because of God’s discriminating grace. What glory! David honoured and served God. All that David was had been by the mercy of God. “I must glory in him,” said David.

If you asked David whether he gloried in his vast kingdom then he’d shake his head. If you asked him if he gloried in his military power then he’d deny it. If you asked him if he gloried in his treasury full of gold and silver then he’d say “No.” “What do you glory in, David?” you could have asked him. “The Lord is all my glory,” David said. “All that I am and have are his free gifts to me. I’d be nothing without him. He is my glory.” This is what was being turned to shame by men who mocked the God of Israel. “Where is he? Your Jehovah? Your temple is empty. Your Holy of Holies is as bare as Mother Hubbard’s cupboard. Look at your own family at loggerheads with one another.” Absalom was going to start a civil war to try to take the kingdom from his father. “Where’s your glory now David?” Look at David’s life. You can hardly call that an advert for the glory of God can you? “Adding Bathsheba to your wives, David?” These men put the knife in and turned the glory of God into shame. They were opposed to the great commands of the God of Israel; Thou shalt have no other god before me. “Who is Jehovah to say that?” They belittled the word of God, and the prophets of God, and the Sabbath of God, and the covenants of God, turning all that glory into shame. They mocked David and they mocked his Lord.

All who live godly in the Lord will have what they glory in turned into shame. The vice-president candidate for the Republicans, Mrs. Palin of Alaska, a professing Christian, called from obscurity and put under media spotlight, became the butt of comedians and cartoonists all over the world. Her glory was her being asked to candidate for high office, and that was turned to shame. See how Pharaoh disparaged the glory of Jehovah in Egypt after God humbled all the creatures the Egyptians worshipped – “Who is the Lord that I should obey his voice?” Jezebel and Ahab sent the prophets of Baal throughout the land of Israel pouring contempt on all that Jehovah was. See how Nebuchadnezzar threw into a burning fiery furnace the three young men who gloried in the Lord alone and refused to bow before the great idol. Today a flood of anti-Christian books and propaganda is filling the western world, mocking the God of the Bible, his miracles and wonders, making a shame of his glory.

David looks at the mockers of his day and he asks them, “How long will this go on? How long will you keep up your hatred? You are so sure now, but what of the future? Will you be so confident as you grow into middle age and know all the disappointments of the gods you’ve worshipped? When you lie on your death-beds, and eternity seems so long, and death so final, will you be disdaining the glory of God then?” Who do you love? Delusions! says David. You think of the fantasy computer world that some people inhabit, pretending that they were James Bond living with a film star. “How long will you love delusions?” (v.2). What is the title of the best-selling anti-Christian book that has made its author a millionaire? The God Delusion.  No. It is the Atheist Delusion. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth and it is true. On the third day Jesus Christ rose from the dead, and it is true. One day he will come again in the clouds in great glory, and it is true. Abandon your vain delusions and come to the real world.

I was reading this week the testimony of a young schoolteacher called Julie Savage that is on the front page of the Evangelical Times for December, and looking at her photograph. She begins by describing her own militant atheism. “Christianity was simply an oppressive system of thought and the sooner the world was free from its ‘taint’ the better. I lived out my atheist beliefs. I even made a will that specified a humanist funeral – to tell the world
that God was indeed ‘dead’. I used my teaching position, both subtly and overtly, to undermine Christianity. I sent hostile E-mails to various Christian anti-abortion groups and this led to participate in Christian on-line forums. I enjoyed the challenge, often boasting to my students about my ‘victories.’” That is what she wrote, but someone she had argued with had surely prayed for God to bless his words as he replied to Julie and wrote to her of the glorious reality of God (because we do pray in our hearts as we answer anyone who opposes the faith). “How long, Julie, will you turn God’s glory into shame?”

So the months went by and the great change happened; an increasing intellectual curiosity began to replace the fierce antagonism. Julie began to question, “Are you there, God?” She decided to visit a church, but for the first three Sundays drove there and didn’t leave her car, sitting outside unwilling and so unable to join the congregation. Then she made it, and she sat through a service . . . and the next Sunday she returned. She kept attending for months, unable to walk away, but all the time looking for ammunition to give the final blow to this Christian God. “I’ll ignore him,” she decided to herself, “and it will simply all go away.” On 30th October 2002 she went to bed early, but at one o’clock she found herself awake. This is what she remembers of that evening; “I went downstairs and just sat there. A sense of nothingness just grew and grew – beyond a mere negative emotion, beyond depression. Then I became aware of the presence of Christ. I did not see or hear anything but I knew his reality and presence, and I knew he was saying, ‘That’s enough now.’ He was right. It was enough. During the moments that followed I did not decide to adopt some religious principles or embrace some therapeutic system. I didn’t even become ‘all religious.’ Rather, I entered into a relationship with my God – one who had hung on a cross for me so that I might be reconciled to him and know him.

“On reflection I believe that the awful nothingness I experienced that night was a glimpse of what it means to be separated from God. That all happened over six years ago and soon afterwards I was baptized. Today I remain assured of the reality of Christ. I have discovered in the past years that he is no delusion. This is the power of the God I once declared ‘dead.’” That is what happened to one woman who followed a delusion long enough.

David grieves over these men who have not found the living Lord for themselves; “How long, O men, will you turn my glory into shame? How long will you love delusions and seek false gods?” (v.2). David was longing for relief from the tide of anti-Jehovahist feeling that was spreading in the land, as we do. “Give me relief from my distress,” (v.1) he cried. It had really got through to David. For him religion wasn’t simply a debating point for arguments with the rationalist. For David the scorn of the God he served was an emotional matter. His heart was breaking; “Give me relief from my distress” (v.1), he cried. So the first reason for David’s distress was his concern with the opposition of unbelievers to the Lord, but there was another reason, more briefly.

ii] God was not immediately answering him. You see that in the opening and closing words of the first verse of this psalm, “Answer me when I call to you . . . hear my prayer” (v.1). An answer to his prayer – where was it? Why wasn’t God answering him? Why didn’t God seem to be hearing his prayers? Don’s we hear that often? People think of God as a waiter in a good café immediately coming to serve us. “What can I get you? Are you ready to order? Is everything to your liking madam? Is there something I can bring you?” But Almighty God is no celestial waiter. We wait on God; and he answers when and how he deems best. He is the potter, and we are the clay. Let me remind you of that conversation of Christian and Hopeful in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress when Christian is probing Hopeful as to how and when he came into assurance of his own salvation through Christ. Hopeful explains to Christian how a pilgrim named Faithful had told him to get on his knees, and entreat the Father to reveal his Son to him. So Christian begins this famous dialogue;

Christian. And did you do as you were bidden?
Hopeful.  Yes; over, and over, and over.
Christian. And did the Father reveal his Son to you?
Hopeful.  Not at the first, nor second, nor third, nor fourth, nor fifth; no, nor at the sixth time either.
Christian. What did you do then?
Hopeful.  What! Why I couldn’t tell what to do.
Christian.   Had you not thoughts of leaving off praying?
Hopeful.   Yes, an hundred times twice told.
Christian. And what was the reason you didn’t?  
Hopeful.  I believed that that was true which had been told me, that without the righteousness of this Christ, all the world could not save me; and therefore, I thought, if I leave off I die, and I can but die at the throne of grace. And then this came into my mind, "Though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry". So I continued praying until the Father showed me his Son.
Christian. And how was he revealed unto you?
Hopeful.  I did not see him with my bodily eyes, but with the eyes of my understanding; and thus it was: One day I was very sad, I think sadder than at any one time in my life, and this sadness was through a fresh sight of the greatness and vileness of my sins. And as I was then looking for nothing but hell, and the everlasting damnation of my soul, suddenly, as I thought, I saw the Lord Jesus look down from heaven upon me, and saying, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." But I replied, Lord, I am a great, a very great sinner. And he answered, "My grace is sufficient for thee." Then I said, But, Lord, what is believing? And then I saw from that saying, "He that cometh to me shall never hunger, and he that believeth on me shall never thirst"; that believing and coming was all one; and that he that came, that is, ran out in his heart and affections after salvation by Christ, he indeed believed in Christ. Then the water stood in mine eyes and I asked further, But, Lord, may such a great sinner as I am, be indeed accepted of thee, and be saved by thee? And I heard him say, And him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out.”

Hopeful did not cease praying though he did not immediately get an answer. He kept crying to God, and you must do the same. You will never get relief from your distress if you stop praying. Don’t give up. Pray briefly, but pray often. Pray at the appropriate time, and pray at inappropriate times. Don’t faint; God will answer; God does hear us pray. So that is my first point, that David cries to God for two reasons, that he is distressed by those around him who love delusions and seek false gods and turn David’s glory into shame. He cries to God for mercy, “be merciful to me,” and then David pleads with God to answer him when he calls to him.

  1. DAVID’S CONFIDENCE IN DISTRESS.

Here is the wonder
of the Christian life, that there are times when we are overwhelmed with weakness and pain, our prayers are not being answered when we cry, and yet, at such a period in our lives, we don’t lack confidence in our Saviour. We see it remarkably in this psalm in David’s certainties at this distressing hour;

i] David was confident in the status of God’s people. He says, “Know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself” (v.3). David knows that God has dealt with him and made him different. You are not like your neighbours are you? On Sunday morning and evening you get into your car and you come to church. You are not like your fellow students are you? On Friday nights you go to the Christian Union meeting. You were different from the other kids in school; you were religious. God had set you apart from the gang, hadn’t he? Fifty years ago when I was a teenager going to church there was scarcely anyone else in all the grammar school who did that. I was set apart for God.

David is speaking to those of his companions who have been influenced by people who love delusions and seek false gods. David could speak from his own experience, how God had set him apart for himself. He’d got no money and no rank. He wasn’t the firstborn son, quite the reverse, and he had the mean task of leading the sheep from pastures to water holes. His brothers were warriors fighting the Philistines, but he was too young to prove himself on fields of conflict. Then God set David apart from his brothers. One by one God rejected all those older bigger brothers, and it was the boy David who was the one Jehovah anointed to leadership in the land. David became king of Israel by divine decree. So it is with us, though at our far less regal vocation; if we are Christians today it is not because we are particularly special, outstandingly gifted men or women. No, it is because God had set us apart. He did this because he loved us, but why he should love inconsistent people like ourselves, we’ve no idea at all. Let us affirm this truth that God does set his people apart, just like David went down to the brook and chose five smooth stones. He set them apart for himself; he ignored all the other stones in the stream, and that is what God did for David amongst all his brothers, and you in your school or college, set apart by God to be sprinkled in the blood of Christ. That is your status, and that should inspire you with hope at times of distress; “Shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him?” Since he chose to love us he cannot but choose to hear us. So David was confident that God has set him apart.

ii] David was confident in the privileges of God’s people. He says, “The Lord will hear when I call to him” (v.3). Think of something we take completely for granted as Christians, that we can run into the presence of God any time of night or day, in any place, and we can whisper into the ears of the Creator of the Milky Way, “Abba! Father!” We can ask about things as slight as a place to park the car or about items as weighty as finding a husband or wife with whom we’d spend the rest of our lives. We can thank him for temporal mercies and we can worship him for redemption, the forgiveness of all our sins, eternal life and the hope of heaven, and when we call to him it is not in vain. He hears us! We might be six years of age; or we might have spent decades in vanity and pride and have come at the very end of our days to know him whom to know is life eternal, and still he will hear when we call to him. It is so personal a response. The Lord hears me. Here are these two beings so very different, I, a speck of dust on his eternal vision; he, the immeasurable Creator; I, a creature whose life speeds by like a weaver’s shuttle; he, the one who is from eternity to eternity. Yet I can say to my companions, “I want you to know this privilege which I have, The Lord will hear me when I call to him.”

iii] David was confident enough to exhort God’s people. So often when we are in distress we protest, “You don’t expect me to bear witness to my faith when I’m feeling like this.” But David, even in his distress, turns and exhorts his hearers. He says a number of things to them; let me single out three things.

(a) Make sure you don’t sin, whatever you do. Remember the apostle John writing a letter and saying, “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin” (I Jn. 2:1). So King David here urges his companions not to let the presence of false religion become an excuse for sinning. “In your anger do not sin;” (v.4). What’s David’s concern? Is he worried about the anger he sees welling up in his companions as they look at the people of the holy land going astray, loving delusions and seeking false gods (v.2)? Were David’s fellow believers getting outraged at this? Religious people can get angry at the influence of false religion. I trust you smile at Mormon missionaries when they knock on your door and you tell them of your faith in Jesus Christ. They are sweet boys with sour theology, and that you do the same to Jehovah’s Witnesses. You are not knocking on doors are you? Then you be sweet to those men and women who are. They’ll soon have you struggling for verses to give to them, and the experience will do you good. When they bring low the glories of Jesus Christ the Son of God then you are right to feel some anger, but do not sin. Think of how our fathers were treated in this land. There have been periods when the professing church has been shocked that the Bible had been translated into the language of the people, and that evangelists were going across the land teaching and preaching the word of God. The bishops got angry and they sinned. They erected gallows and stocks and instruments of torture and stakes and they killed those brave men in unspeakably cruel ways. “In your anger do not sin!” We have had to cry this throughout the history of the church and today we cry it to Muslims all over the world especially where they have some ascendancy and are full of threats and will declare a holy war; “In your anger do not sin!”

You remember who Paul quotes these words in his letter to the Ephesians; “Be angry and sin not; let not the sun go down while you are still angry” (Ephs. 4:26). Don’t go to bed angry with your wife or husband; apologize to that one; be reconciled before you sleep. There is a place for holy anger as Jesus shows us when he cleansed the temple. There was anger when Paul wrote his letter to the church at Galatia as they were drifting away from a religion of grace to a hopeless unsaving religion of works. “If anyone preaches any other gospel than the gospel I preach,” said the apostle, “then let him be accursed.” He was properly angry, for the eternities of the Galatian citizens hung on the truth of the gospel being preached to them, but Paul did not sin when he was angry. He was not mean and blasphemous and spiteful in his anger. It was a righteous indignation. Be careful not to sin, said David. That was his first exhortation, and then he said something else;

(b) Make sure you are searching your hearts. Are there no times when you are serious about your lives? Is it all boy-friends or girl-friends, clothes, sport, drinking, music, holidays? Do you never ask yourselves why you are here in the world? What is the purpose of life? Can you know God? What must you do to be saved? What lies after death? Who was
Jesus Christ and what did he say and do? What is the good life? Is this all there is? Do you never think seriously about such things? When you lie awake after another wasted day don’t you search your hearts about life? It speeds by and you are not giving it a thought. Turn off Radio 1. Turn off the CD. Turn off the TV set. Be silent and think about your life. You think that we Christians are the ones who live on our emotions? We dare not. Life is more than our feelings. We consider the glorious creation and its glorious Creator. We consider the voice of conscience. We consider the Jesus of the Bible. Do you see how David exhorts the world, whether his companions or anyone else who will listen, “When you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent” (v.4). You went to church one Sunday, think of it, and the preacher told you to get to your bedroom, and search your heart as you lay in bed in total silence considering what you had heard. The David exhorted them with another word.

(c) Make sure you have a sacrifice to cover your sins. “Offer right sacrifices and trust in the Lord” (v.5). Those are the basic counsels David tells them. They must have heard it a hundred times. That’s OK. It will do them no harm to hear it one hundred and one times. Let me also make it plain again, that there is no way you can call God your Father unless there is a sacrifice that covers your sins. Without the shedding of blood there is no remission for sin. That blood shed, demanded by God, responds to something in the very nature of God himself. That is how God is. Look at the next psalm, Psalm 5 and read those fearful words of David in verse five. Do you see what they say? “You hate all who do wrong.”You destroy those who tell lies; bloodthirsty and deceitful men the LORD abhors” (v.6). You sometime hear people saying that God loves the sinner but hates the sin, but that is not a careful enough phrase. Certainly God loves the worst sinners in that he offers them salvation through his Son Jesus Christ, and he offers forgiveness to them sincerely and earnestly, pleading with them to trust in Jesus. He finds no delight in their damnation. But at the same time he is angry with them and abhors men who batter their wives and sell drugs to teenagers. Then the next verse, “

When God saw Hitler arranging the deaths of millions of men, women and children God abhorred Hitler and finally God destroyed Hitler in this world and in the one to come. Would you want some cute god who shrugged in indifference at Auschwitz? The great question remains this, how can God completely cover evil men for their atrocious deeds and yet remain a just and sin-hating God? The gospel tells us that it is by sacrifice, and not any kind of sacrifice. It is not by the sacrifice of your own first born child, the fruit of your body for the sin of your life. It is a righteous sacrifice, an authorized and planned sacrifice, an acceptable sacrifice, a blameless sacrifice, a divine sacrifice of infinite merit. In the Old Testament that was displayed in the lambs that were without a blemish, but they were simply types. The blood of an animal can’t cleanse real people of their sin can it? Red heifer’s blood cannot make atonement for what you and I have done. The animal sacrifices were symbols; they were signposts pointing forward to the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world. Jesus Christ, our substitute, has appeased God’s wrath by becoming a propitiation for our sins. God is so holy that he must punish sin, even at the cost of his only begotten Son. What love, that he should send Jesus to become the right sacrifice! What immense love, that Jesus willingly came and died because he could love trash like us. Thus our message to any who will hear us is this word of David, “Trust in the Lord!” (v.5). Trust in the Lord who loved us and died for us. Trust in the Lord who was raised from the dead for us. Put all your trust for entering heaven on the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. That was the message Paul took everywhere with him. He was determined not to know anything else save Jesus Christ and him crucified. That was the confidence of David even in days of distress.

  1. DAVID’S PEACE IN DISTRESS.

In David’s day there were many people who wanted to see signs and visions. They thought, “Wouldn’t that be something good? Who can show us any good?” (v.6). There were people who followed our Lord in the hope that he would perform a sign for them. Jesus told them that it was a sinful and unbelieving generation that clamoured to see signs. “Show us something good,” they cried in Jerusalem when David was on the throne, and later when great David’s greater Son walked its streets they wanted the same thing. “We would believe you if you showed us something good.” They wanted better tricks than those the prophets of Baal could perform. They thought they were no better off following the Lord than any other god. They still had to go to the well and carry back heavy pitchers of water. They still had to plough and sow and harvest and grind the corn and made the bread and clean the dishes. It was still a pain to give birth. They still had diseases and they died. “Who can show us any good?” they cried, as if it were a boring unhappy life following the Lord. If only faith in Jehovah could guarantee them all the grain and oil and wine that they ever needed then that would be something good. And so it is today, if only the Christian faith would provide a Mercedes and a penthouse suite and four vacations in exotic places every year then it would show something good. What did David do? How did he answer these unbelieving grumblers?

a] David looked around him. What did he see? He saw the light of the Lord’s face shining on his life. When he woke up in the morning he said, “I’m still alive and also those I love. The Lord’s mercies are new every morning.” He looked though the window to the hills; he saw the sunlit valleys and the blue sky. How mighty were God’s wonders. Then he thanked God for his mercies countless as the sands, that though his sins abounded God’s grace much more abounded. His heavenly Father was more willing to pardon than David was to ask for pardon. Wherever he went that day the Lord was with him. David knew he was a blessed man. He had the great face of the Lord smiling down on him hour after hour and he needed nothing else. He cried that he wanted more of that, and he would be satisfied; “Let the light of your face shine upon us O Lord” (v.6). So firstly David looked around him. Lift up your eyes unto the hills. Really lift them up. There was one spectacular sunset over the Bay this week. I believe it was on Thursday. It was utterly glorious. How can people be unbelievers? Then there was another source of peace to David.

b] David looked within him. What did he discover? Unspeakable joy. “You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound” (v.7). There is a greater joy than that which comes from having more food than you can eat. God can fill the heart with joy when the refrigerator is empty and there is no money in the bank and you don’t have a job; when all your student grant has virtually disappeared – at times of poverty – it is possible for Christians to have their hearts full of the greatest joy. The joy of knowing that Jesus Christ had all authority in heaven and earth, that he is working all things after the counsel of his own will, that he is working all things together for our good,
that he will never leave us, that he will supply all our need according to his glorious riches, that all grace will always abound towards us. The joy of having the truth; the joy of having the Scriptures; the joy of the Lord’s Day; the joy of Christian friends and family; the joy of fulfilling man’s chief end of glorifying God and enjoying him for ever; the joy of hope in death; the joy of all our sins forgiven and no fear of any condemnation whatsoever. Isn’t that more joy than having a full belly and an abundance of wine? That is what David had within him – great joy.

c] David looked to the Lord. He lay down at the end of the day in the darkness of his bedroom and he wasn’t afraid of things that went bang. He could sleep well on windy nights. When King Saul hunted him across the wilderness like a wild beast David slept at peace. Ghosts didn’t disturb him. Bad dreams he could mock in the light of morning. He knew when he woke up the Lord, who had watched over him all night, the One who doesn’t slumber or sleep, would be there smiling on him again; “Good morning my dear David.” He had someone to watch over him, and so he could make this vow, “I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety” (v.8).

Whatever we face in the years to come there is one truth that is more unshakable than the rock of Gibraltar and it is this, that our Lord and Saviour will make us dwell in safety. He has made up his mind. He will ensure that this happens. However great the threats from outside, however troublesome the onset of dementia, if our dear ones die before us, if the country should be plunged into the most terrible war in the history of the world, God will make sure that we dwell in the secret place of the most high and abide under the shadow of the Almighty. And when we come to the last sleep that we’ll know in this world – that sleep from which there is no awakening in this world – then we will rest for ever in peace and wake up safely in the arms of Jesus, for he alone makes us dwell in safety for ever and ever. Amen.

23rd November 2008  GEOFF THOMAS